Conservatives unveil new benefits for injured veterans, caregivers
Published Tuesday, March 17, 2015 4:58PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 17, 2015 10:02PM EDT
The Conservative government has unveiled two new initiatives for Canada’s veterans and their families, including the creation of a new benefit for caregivers of severely ill or injured servicemen and women.
At a news conference held at a navy dockyard in Vancouver Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole announced the “The Family Caregiver Relief Benefit.”
The proposed benefit will provide an annual tax-free grant of $7,238 to “informal” caregivers, such as spouses, parents or adult children, who provide around-the-clock care to a wounded soldier or veteran.
The benefit will provide “relief” and “additional support” for caregivers at times of added stress or help them “recharge their batteries,” O’Toole said.
The minister said that relatives of injured veterans must often juggle workplace duties and raising a family with caring for their loved one.
“Their own careers are often sidetracked or reduced, and often their own health and wellness is impacted,” O’Toole said. “This new benefit recognizes their important work and provides them with a little extra flexibility and assistance.”
To date, informal caregivers have not received any assistance or official recognition from Veterans Affairs Canada, which has been a source of frustration for family members of wounded veterans who have had to leave their jobs to care for them.
O’Toole also announced on Tuesday a plan to expand the number of veterans eligible for the “Permanent Impairment Allowance.” The PIA is a life-long monthly financial benefit for veterans whose employment potential and career advancement have been limited by a permanent service-related injury or illness.
The expansion will lift some restrictions for the PIA requirements, making the benefit available to hundreds more veterans. The allowance, originally introduced in 2006, provides up to $2,800 a month to veterans who cannot work.
O’Toole said the eligibility will be less restrictive about the requirements relating to their ability to independently carry out most daily activities.
The changes to veterans’ benefits follow criticism over the lack of government assistance for injured veterans and their families.
Jenny Migneault has been an outspoken critic of the government as she struggles to get help for her husband, Sgt. Claude Rainville, a veteran who suffers from physical injuries and debilitating PTSD. She quit her full-time job last year to care for Rainville.
Following Tuesday’s announcement, Migneault said she’s “really happy” that she’s now officially recognized by the government, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
“I’m just wondering how much this announcement truly helps those who need it,” Migneault said on CTV’s Power Play. “I feel that there’s so much more work to be done.”
Migneault said she wants to know in what context the grant will be provided to her family.
“What I really need is education and training,” she said. “If I’m educated, if I can intervene properly, first of all I help my husband, and I help myself so right there we’re working on a quality- of-life element.”
Migneault said while the initiatives are a “positive step,” she hopes they are more than just a goodwill gesture during an election year.
“Reaching out is one thing, proposing measures that are adequate is something else,” she said.
Like Migneault, Debbie Greene left her career to provide full-time care for her husband after he was severely injured in an axe attack while serving in Afghanistan.
For the past decade, Debbie has helped Trevor through his extensive rehabilitation. He credits her 24-hour care with saving his life.
Debbie said the recognition by the government is important.
“To recognize the family in this way is really crucial and such an important step, because we do give up an awful lot as an entire family,” she said.
Ottawa says more than 350 caregivers will qualify for the benefit by the end of the decade.
But critics believe the number is much higher.
“I know 300 caregivers myself just in Nova Scotia, so there’s a lot more caregivers that are out there and I think the government underestimated this announcement,” said MP Peter Stoffer, the NDP’s Veterans Affairs critic.
The opposition calls the Tuesday’s announcement a “smokescreen” by a governing party that is desperate to heal wounds with military families.
“Vets and Canadians aren’t stupid,” said Liberal MP Frank Valeriote. “They know this is an election year.”
The new benefits won’t kick in until after the upcoming federal budget passes.
The cost for the treasury won’t be known until the budget is introduced sometime next month.
With files from CTV’s Richard Madan